Station Crew Prepares to Split Up While Research Continues

Astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti talk to journalists on Earth about their space station mission. Credit: NASA TV
Astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti talk to journalists on Earth about their space station mission. Credit: NASA TV

It was a busy Tuesday aboard the International Space Station as the 11 crew members split their time between advanced space research and orbital lab maintenance.  Four astronauts are also turning their attention to returning to Earth ending a mission that began in April.

Two new Expedition 68 crewmates focused their science activities on growing crops in space and maneuvering free-flying robots. NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio nourished vegetables and photographed their growth progress for the XROOTS space botany study. The experiment investigates using hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to support crop growth and sustain astronauts living in microgravity. Astronaut Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) turned on the Astrobee robotic free-flyers and watched as the toaster-sized devices performed image processing and laser pointing tasks using pre-programmed algorithms.

First-time NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada spent their day on maintenance and crew orientation activities. Mann collected a water sample and replaced a sensor in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module’s oxygen generation system. Cassada swapped components on the station’s bathroom, or Waste and Hygiene Compartment, then joined Rubio and reviewed how to install and remove helmets on the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits. Mann and Cassada also trained on the operation of station exercise gear including the COLBERT treadmill and the Destiny module’s exercise bike.

Four astronauts are getting ready to return to Earth soon aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship. The quartet consisting of Freedom Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines and Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti spent Tuesday packing up cargo and personal items, charging computer tablets, and downloading deorbit data necessary to target Freedom’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Watch the four departing astronauts’ farewell remarks on YouTube

The station’s three cosmonauts focused on station research and lab upkeep tasks on Tuesday. Two-time station visitor Sergey Prokopyev worked on computer hardware then researched how international crews and mission controllers can improve interactions. First-time space flyer Dmitri Petelin checked the Zvezda service module’s ventilation system then studied advanced Earth photography methods. New Flight Engineer Anna Kikina, who has been aboard the station less than a week, explored future spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques and later joined Petelin for the Earth photography session.


Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

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